Alaskan Tigers Book Thirteen
As the new Alpha of the Ohio Tigers, Korbin, has his work cut out for him. The small clan size and numerous threats leave him with few options. Rather than merge with another Alpha, he fights to give them a brighter future. By making his clan a haven for those escaping enemy Alphas, he ensures it would grow in size and strength, but will this bring its own set of problems? Then, when his mate shows up, he never suspects the biggest obstacle he’d have to overcome is a human sheriff right in town.
Years ago, Layla Cole’s father promised her hand in marriage to the town’s sheriff. For nearly a year, she allowed him to court her but as her twentieth birthday looms, she realizes she can’t go through with it. She might have gone through with the wedding were her father still alive, but he died at the very hands of the man she’s supposed to marry, leaving only hatred flowing through her veins for him. Not going through with the arrangement puts her sister’s life in jeopardy. Somehow, she must find a way to keep them both safe.
Battered and wounded, Layla turns to the only people who might protect her against the sheriff. She wants simply to get out of town, but finds way more than that: a chance at true happiness. Can she survive the battle between sheriff and shifter, or will she end up losing the only thing she’s ever wanted? Will Korbin’s duty to keep his mate safe doom his clan? Finding balance between responsibility and love has never proved so challenging.
The list of differences between Ohio and Alaska were too numerous for Korbin to list. He believed he was happy in Alaska, now he realized there had been something missing, something he hadn’t known about. The challenges he had been obliged to face in Ohio forced him to grow, not only as a person, but as an Alpha. Maybe beyond anyone’s expectations, he flourished. The clan was starting to grow, which gave them strength they’d need to survive. Every day was looking brighter than the last. While he couldn’t take all the credit, this was mostly due to his devotion and effort toward uniting them.
Rolling his neck, he tried to push his tiger back in its confines within him and stared out the window at the construction zone that would soon become their new home. Weeks—that was how long it would take to put the past behind them. When they moved into the new building, they’d set this place ablaze and burn the last shred of evidence of the former Alpha’s existence. He wasn’t sure who was more anxious to destroy this place: he or the members. As if brought to life by his thoughts, Sparks’ woody scent drifted toward him, bringing a smile to his lips. “Speak of the Devil.”
“Sir?” Sparks halted, stopping midstride. “I umm…”
“You’re not in trouble.” He turned, allowing Sparks to see the grin stretched across his face. “I was thinking about your suggestion of burning this place to the ground. It’s going to be a bonfire to put all others to shame.”
“If that’s what my Alpha wishes, we’ll be sure to deliver.”
As quickly as it came, the smile disappeared and his mood darkened. The clan had come so far since he had taken over, but moments like this reminded him they had been stifled for so long, they had no idea what a normal clan should be like. They had been required to adjust to the changes he had brought with him. While there had been some complaints at first, most of them realized he was moving them in a better direction, one that would bring life back to their compound. Still, there were times when they seemed uncertain of him, acting just as Sparks had. Seeing them like this, as if waiting for him to snap at them, made his beast want to beat the shit out of the bastard who’d put the fear into them.
“We’ll do whatever pleases you, Alpha.”
The soft voice brought his attention to Sparks’ sister, Rachel, who stood a few steps behind. With her head dipped in submission, her honey brown hair hid her face from view, but he could see the slight tremble of her shoulders as she waited for the outburst she had grown used to most of her life.
“How about remembering I’m not him? Haven’t I’ve proven it time and time again?” He forced his tiger back enough to keep the growl out of his voice. “Forget it. I know it takes time; it’s just…”
“What? Just what?” Without raising her head, Rachel glanced at him.
“You’re concerned opening the compound to others is going to cause issues.” Sparks’ gaze met Korbin’s as if he understood.
“It will if everyone isn’t ready for what we’re inviting into our home.” Korbin’s tiger pressed against the confines, demanding to be set free, wanting to run—as if that would solve anything. “Weeks. That’s what we have left, and are we ready? I don’t think so.”
“Was Texas ready when Manetka Resort opened again? Were the members sure where they stood with their Alpha?” Rachel questioned, no longer looking down at the floor in front of her.
“It’s different with them.” He dragged his hand through his hair, tugging it away from his face, ready to yank out the strands. He had been so focused on the clan, he hadn’t taken the time to get his hair cut. The curly locks had grown out of control. “Tex was one of them. They knew him before he became their Alpha. He protected them from Avery—they knew he was different. You didn’t know me before…” His words trailed off. They didn’t speak of the previous Alpha. They never said his name because he was nothing to them now.
“You’ve proved yourself to us, too.” She took a step forward, coming closer to her brother. “Twenty-one years of living under his control, trained from birth how to act around him, and now, this new life is so different. It’s going to take time for all of us to adjust but don’t doubt we’re trying. It’s harder for some but everyone is trying to please you.”
“That’s just it, Rachel.” He straightened, coming away from the window and walking toward her. “Everyone tries so hard to please me, treating me like I’m their king or something.”
“You’re our Alpha,” Sparks reasoned.
He didn’t know how to explain it. There was a difference between how they treated him versus how the Alaskan Tigers treated Ty. Somehow, he needed to explain it to his members. Otherwise, he’d always find himself frustrated with the situation. His clan was small but he couldn’t load them onto a plane and take them to Alaska to show them. He had to come up with another way. It was a problem he’d have to face later as he had too much on his plate right now. He glanced at the clock and realized Sparks should be in the gym, not in his temporary office. “What brought you up here anyways?”
“It’s my fault.” Standing next to her brother, Rachel shifted her weight from foot to foot, clearly uncomfortable. “I…um…”
“Sir,” Sparks picked up where his sister was unable to continue. “We have an issue and I need permission to find someone to fill in for my shift this evening.”
“Um…” Rachel sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and snuck a look at her brother.
“Tell me.” Whenever possible, he tried to approach the members with patience but he was quickly growing tired of this charade. If there was an issue that brought danger to the members, he needed to know about it so he could deal with it. The last thing they needed was another problem placing the clan in harm’s way.
“It’s my fault, really,” she said again. Stepping away from her brother, she did her best to make sure Korbin’s attention was on her. “Each week we go into town for supplies and I sort of friended the cashier. Since the order’s called in and is ready when we arrive, she already knew where we’re from, and now she’s here.”
“What do you mean she’s here?” Korbin kept his voice calm, while inside his tiger raged that an innocent human had showed up near the compound. What if she saw something she shouldn’t? Trusting a human could be dangerous for the clan but it could be downright deadly for the human. Things were too uncertain to risk anyone who didn’t stand a chance against another of their kind.
“A couple of weeks ago Rachel intervened between the human and a man,” Sparks explained.
“You know better than to get involved with a human’s problems. You risked everything we have here by bringing attention to us.” Korbin’s tiger rose within him, angry that she’d jeopardized everything he was working so hard to put back together.
“He almost killed the woman,” Sparks said. “I understand your anger but if we hadn’t intervened, she’d be dead. Going to the police wasn’t an option. We did what we could to help her. Would you have been able to stand aside knowing what would happen to her?”
Fuck! Sparks knew Korbin well enough to guess his answer to the question. Rather than reply, though, he leaned back against the edge of his desk and crossed his ankles in front of him. “What does this have to do with why you’re unable to fulfill your guard duties this evening?”
“She arrived in rough shape. She needs medical treatment and I must get her somewhere safe. It’s going to take a few hours.”
“Where is she now?” He had visions of her roaming the compound alone and stumbling upon a tiger, or overhearing something she shouldn’t.
“She’s with Kasar in the guardhouse. I refused to allow her into the compound without permission.” His gaze shifted toward his sister.
“Help her.” Rachel inched forward.
“Enough.” Sparks wrapped his hand around her bicep, pulling her back to his side. “We spoke about this.”
“She’s bleeding and the hospital is forty minutes away.” Rachel shifted to the side so she could look at her brother. “What if she doesn’t make it?”
His gaze traveled over the siblings, debating his next move. Sparks had proven himself enough over the past several weeks that Korbin was considering the young man’s position within the clan. He seemed a likely choice to move up the ranks—just how far was still in question. He was running out of time before he had to have everything in order. In just two weeks’ time, he’d lose three of his best guards, when they’d return home to West Virginia. Jinx had been kind enough to loan him guards to help keep him and the clan safe, but it was now time for them to learn to stand on their own two feet.
It’s time I start trusting those around me. With that, he glanced back at Sparks, cutting him off from whatever he was whispering to his sister. “How bad are her injuries?”
“She’s been shot and she’s bleeding pretty bad,” Rachel explained before Sparks could speak.
“Fuck!” He rose off the desk. “Let’s go.”
“I can take her to the hospital.” Sparks fell into step with Korbin. “She’s hurt but she’ll live.”
“You’re an asshole,” she snapped. “She’s in pain and you don’t give a shit.”
“It’s not our responsibility to care for every stray human—”
“Enough!” Korbin jogged toward the gatehouse, wishing he would have found time to put together a first aid kit but with shifters’ natural ability to heal, he hadn’t needed one until now. He tried hard not to think about Sparks’ comment. Every stray human. Would she make a habit of this? If it was a possibility, he’d need to put an end to it before she could bring anyone else to the compound. Her bringing humans home wouldn’t only put the clan in danger, but it would be dangerous for the humans, too. Maybe it was time for him to find another team to make the weekly supply trip into town.
* * *
Applying pressure to her stomach, Layla Cole fought to keep herself standing. She wasn’t sure how she’d made it through the woods and up the steep incline but there she was. She had nowhere else to go and unless Rachel helped her, she might not make it through the night. How had she ended up like this? Everything had been so perfect and now, she couldn’t even take care of herself.
Exhausted and unable to stay on her feet, she dropped down onto the sofa and sucked in a deep breath of air. Somehow, she had to find a way out of this town. Otherwise, she’d end up dead by his hands. If only she had somewhere to go. Somewhere she could lie low and heal; then, she could proceed with her plans. The hundred and fifty bucks she had tucked away in the lining of her purse weren’t much but it would be enough to get her a bus ticket out of the state. From there, she had no doubt she could find a job waiting tables somewhere. She could make a life for herself, one that didn’t involve getting herself beaten up every night.
Need to find somewhere to hide out until the next bus on Monday, then I can be free. Was that why she had headed to where she knew she could find Rachel? She hadn’t been thinking clearly but this was where she’d come to and her body refused to go any farther. She was surprised she had made it as far as she had. A mile back, her legs had turned to jelly under her, making it nearly impossible for her to continue. How much blood had she lost? Would the gunshot wound be the end of her?
Her eyelids drifted shut and the scene from hours before replayed in her mind. She didn’t want to see it happen again but it was all she could think about. How close to death she had been—but miraculously, she survived. This was her wakeup call. Going back to him would only lead to her death. She’d rather run and die than go back to him and certainly face her death at his hands.
“Stupid bitch! How could you? Fucking my best friend. Whore.” With every word, the rage within him grew and she knew she was in for a worse beating than she’d already received.
“I didn’t.” The world seemed to slow as he pulled his gun from the holster on his belt, bringing it up to aim it at her. “Please, Donald…I didn’t…he stopped by to see you. Not me.”
Unlike what everyone claimed about such situations, she’d faced death without her life flashing before her eyes. There was no one to mourn her, no one to miss her. Part of her longed for this to happen, begging for it all to end, while another part wanted so much more, things she’d never experience as long as she stayed with him. Before she could decide her next move, he pulled the trigger and pain exploded through her stomach. She slid down the wall, blood soaking her white shirt. As she watched the red liquid seep into the light gray carpet, she could only think about what a hassle it would be to get the stain out. Maybe death would finally take her and she wouldn’t have to scrub the carpet.
Not wanting her final thoughts to be about the stupid carpet or Donald’s wrath, she let her eyelids drift shut and waited for death to take her. She had no idea how long she’d leaned against the wall but when her eyes opened again, she was alone. Without a second thought, she grabbed her purse and ran. Well, ran might have been an overstatement, but she hightailed it out of there as fast as her legs would carry her. The brush with death proved enough to force her to wake up and in those minutes as she waited for the end, she’d realized she had to take responsibility for her own life. She couldn’t hope for change; she had to make it happen.
She was tired of being the victim and the only way out was to leave town. Staying there meant he would kill her. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind that one day he’d go too far and she’d end up in the pine wood box, six feet under. She couldn’t allow that to happen.
Fight or flight—and her fight response had been beaten out of her years ago. Now, the only option she had was flight. Run as fast and as far as her legs would carry her. She had to put distance between her and this town before he found her.
She glanced back to the high fence that surrounded the property and tried to stop the fear rising within her. What was this place? And why was security so tight here? Questions whirled in her mind but still, this had to be the only place he wouldn’t come to look for her. No one would search for her there. Please, Rachel, I need your help.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught movement through the window. The green of Korbin’s T-shirt stole her attention. Before she could stop herself, she went to stand next to the window, staring at a four-hundred-pound white tiger. If she wasn’t so terrified of what was about to happen, she would have been in awe of the beautiful creature.
“Korbin, no, get away!” she screamed at the window, begging him to hear her. He was going to be ripped apart by the tiger. It wasn’t logical but she placed the blame on herself. If she hadn’t been there, if he hadn’t been treating her wounds, he’d have known about this escaped feline. Maybe then, the people here could have done something to protect themselves.
Korbin turned toward the building, the same amber eyes she’d seen moments before focused on her. His lips moved but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. She fixed her attention on his gaze. There was something in his eyes—it wasn’t fear but before she could make it out, he turned back to the tiger before him.
“He’ll be fine.” A deep male voice came from behind her, forcing her attention away from Korbin.
“Help him. Don’t let him die because of me!” she pleaded with the stranger.
“Because of you?” Sparks stepped into the bedroom behind the other man.
“If I hadn’t come here you’d have known a tiger escaped the zoo, circus, or whatever.” She stepped away from the window, toward Sparks. “How can you stay in here safely when he’s out there, facing that thing? Fuck it. I’ll do it.”
“You’re not going out there.” The other man stepped in between her and the door.
“Get out of my way. I can’t do nothing.” She debated if she could take him on. Where Korbin’s muscles were tight and toned, this man was buff. His shoulders were wide, nearly filling the doorway, making it impossible for her to slip past him. The darkness in his eyes made him seem dangerous but his stance was relaxed. He didn’t even appear bothered by the fact a tiger was about to tear Korbin apart.
“We have our orders.” Sparks dropped into the accent chair next to the dresser. “Doll, it’s best if you get comfortable and wait for Korbin to come back.”
“The Alpha gave you orders and they were not to sit there and flirt with his…” His gaze darted toward her. “Go, Sparks.”
“I wasn’t flirting.” Sparks huffed as he rose. He glanced at her before moving toward the door. “Everything’s going to be fine. Korbin will be back in a few. Watch from the window if you don’t believe me.”
“Back? Are you insane? There’s a flipping tiger out there!” she screamed at him, unable to understand why no one else was freaking out. They were going to die and these idiots treated the whole situation like an everyday event.